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Quebeckers recall scramble to safety as tornado touched down near Montreal

Tornado hit by Rigaud, about 60 kilometres west of Montreal, leaving trail of debris but no injuries

Residents west of Montreal recounted on Tuesday the moment when a tornado tore through their communities, taking only a few seconds to rip apart homes, vehicles and farm buildings.

The day after the storm, residents described being shaken but unhurt by Monday’s violent storm, which left behind a trail of broken trees, flattened buildings and fields full of debris.

Daniel Gélinas said he had only a few seconds to react before his 150-year-old farmhouse was hit at around 5:30 p.m. Gélinas was having a coffee in his home in Très-Saint-Rédempteur, Que., near the Ontario border, when he looked out the window and saw his belongings spinning in the wind.

“Parts of my deck were starting to fly by, and I started seeing the swirling in the yard, so I grabbed my dog, went to my basement and just jumped down,” he said.

Within 30 seconds, it was over, Gélinas said in an interview.

“We literally hit the ground in the basement and got back up, looked outside and it was all done.”

The storm that tore through his property ripped the roof off the small red farmhouse, flattened his garage and scattered his belongings across the street. A piece of the house’s roof dangled from a power line, while broken furniture, wood and equipment were strewn around the swimming pool and carefully landscaped garden.

Hydro-Québec crews were on site, walking through a tangle of downed trees and power lines strung with debris.

Environment Canada confirmed Tuesday it was a tornado that hit near Rigaud, which is about 60 kilometres west of Montreal. Meteorologist Michèle Fleury said the confirmation was based on photos and videos, but a team from Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project was en route to confirm its strength and trajectory.

She said it was possible a tornado could have touched down in Ontario as well, though that hasn’t been confirmed.

In Rigaud, a crew of family and volunteers were picking up pieces of roof and broken trees from the Ferme Carra dairy farm on Tuesday.

Christian Carrière, who runs the farm with his family, said he was at home with his girlfriend and son when they heard the sound of objects pinging against the siding, and saw the rain that had been pelting the window suddenly turn to mud.

“I said, ‘Hurry up, let’s go, it’s a tornado,’” said Carrière, who rushed his family to the basement.

On Tuesday, he was contemplating the damage to the home, which included broken windows, cracked walls and a block of wood that flew into the kitchen. Pieces of pink insulation were spread across the lawn around a mature tree that lay uprooted on its side.

On the farm, a corner of the dairy barn roof was lifted off, and a second building was largely destroyed after the tornado flung blocks of concrete into it, he said. The cows were unhurt, but Carrière believes the damage could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Next door, renter Maude Caza said she’d been getting into the bath with her five-year-old son when she lost electricity and heard 30 seconds of intense, roaring wind.

Afterwards, the rural road went into “panic mode,” she said. “Everyone went outside, all the neighbours checking to see if everyone was OK.”

The storm hit the side of the home, ripping off and splintering the porch and carrying away a garage and a barn full of chickens. On Tuesday, only the foundations of the barn remained, with not a bird in sight.

“In that barn there were 100 chickens, and most of them are gone with the tornado,” Caza said.

Très-Saint-Rédempteur Mayor Julie Lemieux said the tornado damaged several homes and farm buildings in the community as well as in Rigaud, but officials don’t believe anyone was injured.

Lemieux said residents received alerts about the storm before it hit, and the municipality responded quickly. She said it’s something they’ve had to prepare for in recent years as severe storms have become more frequent, which she attributes to climate change.

“A tornado, it’s the first in decades, but we have to be prepared for it to happen more often,” she said, stressing the importance of people having an emergency kit ready.

Both Caza and Gélinas said they’d received alerts on their phones earlier that afternoon warning them of a possible tornado, but said they hadn’t seen funnel clouds or anything to suggest imminent danger.

Gélinas and his wife Julia Asselstine say they’re still in shock to see their four years of hard work restoring the property blown away.

“The roof to my garage is 30 feet up in the tree here, our deck is in the other yard,” he said. “The pool is pretty much taken apart. It’s unbelievable.”

Asselstine, who was at the couple’s primary home in Montreal, said she got a text from her husband as the storm hit. After that, she couldn’t reach him and feared the worst as she called again and again.

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